75 years ago, on 16 April 1945, at the Zeelov Heights – numerous hills near the city of Zeelov, about 90 km east of the German capital – the Berlin Offensive began. It was the last large-scale World War II battle in Europe. According to official figures, more than 360,000 Red Army soldiers were killed during the operation.
On Thursday, at the Zeelov Heights memorial complex, a traditional laying of wreaths will be held with the participation of Russian Ambassador to Germany Sergei Nechaev. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the event will be held behind closed doors.
"The resistance against the Red Army on the Eastern Front, which at that time was in Central Germany, was really fierce, down to the last soldier. The Red Army noticed this. When they seized a small town, there were always many suicides among the civilian population; it surprised the Russians. But the civilian population was convinced that when the war was over, only the apocalyptic death of the German Reich could be expected, that there would be no 'later'. German resistance cost the Red Army heavy losses to the very end", Morre said.
He added that because of such desperate resistance, the Soviet leadership turned to the Western allies, warning them against partial a surrender of the Nazi regime. Moscow believed that "unconditional surrender at the same time on all fronts ... was extremely important for the Red Army and for the Soviet Union", Morre said.
Battles in Berlin
The resistance of Nazi army units – the Wehrmacht – in Berlin was fierce, but it was uneven, Jörg Morre said. On the outskirts of the city, where the ring road is located today, there were Volkssturm units – Nazi German militia units that were poorly equipped and without any ammunition or military training. They quickly stopped fighting.
"It was different in the city. Starting from today's S-Bahn-Ring, there were Wehrmacht soldiers, SS units, various armed formations; battles were fought for each house and every street. Even on 2 May, when the city surrendered, there were three-four places where there were still fights; for example, in the bunker at the Zoological Garden station, in Gezundbrunnen. The German units laid down their arms there only on the order of Helmut Weidling, the so-called military commander of Berlin. It was fierce fighting, which was completely hopeless in military terms", the expert noted.
Attempts to Surrender
Despite the desperate situation, where "every Wehrmacht general and officer knew that the war had been 'long lost militarily', Nazi Germany tried until the last day to conclude a separate peace agreement with the Western allies in order to send all available forces to the Eastern Front to fight against the Red Army", Morre said.
On 6 May, Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz, the successor of Hitler, who committed suicide in a Berlin bunker on 30 April 1945, sent Alfred Jodl, head of the German operational headquarters of the Wehrmacht Supreme Command, to the French city of Reims. The headquarters of the Allied Forces Command was located in Reims, which was led by US Army General Dwight D. Eisenhower. Jodl's task was to discuss a partial surrender of Nazi Germany with the Anglo-American allies.
Eisenhower immediately rejected it. He repeated that the aim of the war was the unconditional surrender of the German Wehrmacht on all fronts.
With this wording, an act of surrender was signed in Reims early in the morning of 7 May (in Soviet historiography, a preliminary act of surrender signed by Colonel-General Jodl on the German side, Major General Ivan Susloparov on the Soviet side, US Army Lieutenant General Walter Bedell Smith, chief of the main headquarters of the Allied Forces Command, on the Anglo-American side, and Deputy Chief of France's national defence Brigadier General Francois Sevez on the French side, as a witness)", the expert said, adding that the "necessary final part of surrender" took place in Berlin on 8 May 1945 (9 May, Moscow time).
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